Managing Virtual Teams by Silvester Ivanaj and Claire Bozon. Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham UK (2016). 303 + xv pages. US$135.00 (hardcover).
Nearly all of us work in virtual teams. We understand that virtual teams (VT) may struggle with communication and collaboration since we don’t see our colleagues face-to-face (F2F). Yet, VTs offer many advantages for new product development (NPD) because they allow us access to diverse perspectives and global market intelligence.
Literature accumulated over the past two decades can be quite random regarding VTs. Some studies discuss the definition of a VT; others contrast the challenges of a VT with a traditional, co-located team. Silvester Ivanaj and Claire Bozon’s new book, “Managing Virtual Teams,” brings together a comprehensive summary of peer-reviewed literature on the operation of a VT. The text is clearly an academic treatise and makes few recommendations for leadership best practices.
However, because the authors have approached knowledge of VTs from an academic standpoint, many of the myths and fables surrounding the effectiveness of VTs are blown apart with thorough, theoretical arguments.
“Managing Virtual Teams” is divided into four major sections with a fifth section dedicated to case studies. The four parts discuss the following topics.
What are virtual teams all about?
Virtual team inputs
Virtual team processes
Outputs: virtual teams a source of performance
The three chapters that make up Part I focus on the historical perspective of VTs, the definition of a VT, and the literature review utilized for the text. Many terms cover what the authors identify as a virtual team. These include distributed teams, global teams, and dispersed teams. Ivanaj and Bozon define a virtual team as “a group of people who can be separated by space, time, and organization, and work closely together supported by information and communication technologies (ICTs)” (pg. 6). In fact, temporal dispersion may have the greatest influence on the positive functioning of a VT, as the authors note later in Chapter 5 (pg. 88-89).
Parts II through IV build on the general model of work that the authors put forth: inputs, processes, and outputs. Chapters 4 and 5 describe the inputs and characteristics of virtuality (pg. 51):
Social and human structure, and
Corporate strategy and culture.
For example, Ivanaj and Bozon note that an organizational culture is more likely to succeed with a VT when it is based on adaptive technologies and is non-hierarchical (pg. 59).
Several types of VTs are described in Chapter 5 (pg. 75-77). These include networked teams, parallel teams, project teams, software teams, functional work teams, educational teams, and service teams. The advantage of using a VT for a project is to tap into creativity among team members and to facilitate global innovation processes. Certainly, NPD projects can benefit from the diversity of a VT.
Part III of “Managing Virtual Teams” consists of three chapters framed as socio-emotional processes, technological processes, and managerial processes. Like all teams, VTs need to utilize socio-emotional processes to build trust for active collaboration. Knowledge management processes support collaboration and coordination of data and information shared among VT members. VT members spend more time in coordinating work and communication than do traditional team members. Particularly challenging for VTs is the transfer of tacit knowledge which is facilitated by F2F interactions for team tasks and job engagement (pg. 111). Trust is supported on VTs by behavior, goodwill, capability, and self-reference (pg. 118).
Chapter 8 describes leadership and conflict management for VTs as a process step. Conflicts are different in a VT because they tend to focus on task completion rather than interpersonal challenges found in traditional teams. VTs can minimize task and process conflicts via shared understanding of work activities and methods for task completion. Most research has focused on affective conflicts and there is a need for more data to support cognitive and process conflict resolution on VTs (pg. 165).
Finally, Chapter 9 in Part IV addresses performance on a VT. Successful VTs define expectations upfront and share how individuals will benefit from the team’s work (pg. 183). Performance measures should include (pg. 187):
How the team meets expected standards of quality, quantity, and schedule;
How team processes enable teamwork; and
How teamwork positively influences personal and professional development of team members.
Chapter 11 concludes “Managing Virtual Teams” with suggestion for future research. In particular, the question arises as to how Generation Y will work on VTs and how their interactions with more senior generations will impact the work of a global team (pg. 217). Further, the authors suggest additional research into the international job market and whether or not human resource departments are able to fully take advantage of worldwide talent and resources.
“Managing Virtual Teams” is an extraordinarily thorough summary and analysis of literature regarding VTs. As the authors themselves mention in Chapter 3, the text does not include references to empirical studies or consultant white papers. This makes “Managing Virtual Teams” a highly academic text in which solutions are sometimes hard to identify along with the problem statements. On the other hand, the book is a treasure trove of data and information on virtual teams – all in one place! I recommend “Managing Virtual Teams” for any researcher who is trying to dig deeper into the fundamentals of success for a VT. Furthermore, any NPD practitioner who is faced with a VT challenge will find her/his problem referenced in “Managing Virtual Teams,” and s/he can begin to identify tactics to improve VT relationships and communication.